How Would You Rule? Miller v CH Robinson Upends Rules of the Road for the Trucking Industry

May 3, 2023Transportation

If a long haul trucker has an accident resulting in devastating injuries to a motorist is the freight broker that hired him liable? This interstate shipping case took a twisty road to arrive at the answer.

In 2016, Costco hired CH Robinson, one of the nation’s largest transportation companies to arrange the shipment of goods from California to Utah. The company then hired a federally licensed motor carrier whose driver bounded over a median and overturned, pinning motorist Alan Miller’s car underneath and leaving Allen paralyzed.

As a result, Allen, who’s going to require round-the-clock medical care for the rest of his life, brought a $30 million dollar personal injury suit against Robinson, claiming Robinson was negligent in choosing their transport company and thus responsible for the wreck.

Robinson responded that they were protected from such as suit under a long-standing federal regulation covering interstate commerce and precluding such a state-based claim.

And besides, they couldn’t be liable because as a mere freight broker, it wasn’t their truck or their driver involved in the collision.

Alan responded that the accident fell under the regulation’s exception for road safety. And that in choosing the method of transport, they were liable and sought damages for his exorbitant and mounting medical expenses.

How would you rule?

Was freight broker Robinson liable for this accident?

YES. According to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Robinson could be liable for damages.

Yet how can a freight broker, such as Robinson, be liable for another company’s employees, operations, and trucks they don’t even own?

This case clearly illustrates the legal minefield the trucking industry currently faces. Under the law, depending upon the circumstances, freight brokers CAN be held liable for another company’s actions.

The purpose of federal transportation regulations is to establish a legally consistent and reliable trucking industry throughout the country. Yes, there are safety exceptions, and they may or may not apply.

How does this affect you and your business? What happens when it’s your turn to stare down the barrel of a wrongfully injured plaintiff and possible liability?

Because it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.

The good news is there are legal strategies you implement now to battle-harden your business today, allowing you to better defend against such claims in the future.

To find out more, contact Jonathan Scott and Commerce Law Partners – Prepare to Win!

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